Making Women, Defining Work
Asking why it took a century for domestic workers to come under global labor standards, this introduction frames the ILO as a producer of social knowledge whose definitions cast the woman worker as a distinct category in law and social policy. It traces changes in the global political economy, introduces the structure of the ILO, and outlines subsequent chapters. Though not an explicitly feminist organization, legal-equality and labor feminists alike sought to use the ILO to advance their own agendas. Despite growing acceptance of formal equality, the ILO came up against women’s assumed responsibility for homes and families, including reproductive labor. By the 1970s, structural transformations rendered the male-breadwinner model inadequate, turning the ILO’s attention to the “informal” sector exemplified by women home-based workers in the Global South. With the unraveling of the employer-employee relation and legal protections, the woman worker in the early 21st century came to stand as a harbinger for a world of precarious, feminized labor—part-time, short-term, and low-waged—that the ILO seeks to combat through a “decent work” agenda, which includes improving unpaid as well as paid domestic work, both of which are essential for women’s labor force participation.
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